are not part of the basic structure of our social relations."
-- Erich Fromm, The Sane Society, 1955, p.127
Q u e s t i o n s & A n s w e r s , i n D e t a i l
~ T H E P R O B L E M ~
Q. What's wrong with society as it is?
There is much that is right with society as it is. But there is also much wrong that is making life increasingly unbearable for most of us.
For one thing, we have little real control over our own lives.
Most of us are not aware that our lives are determined by a "thing," by something outside ourselves. We think that we are in charge of our own lives, that our decisions determine our lives--and that's true, in a limited fashion. Yes, we are in control of our own lives, but our lives take place within a larger framework that we have no control over. That framework is called capitalism; it is the money-and-profit system within which each of us must live, work, and simply exist. It is the "economic" system of America and most of the rest of the world. We can't escape it.
"Capitalism" is a big word which most of us do not use in everyday conversation. Many of us are only vaguely familiar with what it is. But One Human Family recommends that you repeat this word out loud a few times--say it now, go ahead: capitalism...capitalism...capitalism. Become familiar with this word, and its meaning, because you will learn that this thing called capitalism has a huge influence on every aspect of your life, and is responsible for most of your problems.
A "capitalist" society is the opposite of a "cooperative" society.
You might argue back that, yes, our lives are constrained by one thing--existence itself (birth, death, etc.). We have no control over these things. Yes, this is also true, we have no control or little control over our existence itself. But as the diagram below illustrates, between our existence and our lives, there is actually another framework, capitalism, and this framework determines what our lives will be, day-to-day, much more than our existence does.
This other framework, Capitalism, is hidden from most people. Perhaps they learned about it in high school or college, but most people have long since forgotten about it. Capitalism is big, sprawling, ubiquitous. It's all over the place. It affects so many things in society and in our lives, that people, understandably, don't think about it much, if ever. They are not generally aware of its effects, or if they are, they feel powerless to change anything. The money-and-profit system of capitalism is like gravity, or death--because it's so common, and because it is all around us, all the time, we take it for granted, and we don't think about it much--even though its effects are powerful and profound, for each one of us. We feel them every moment of every day--whether we realize it or not.
EXISTENCE - This refers to birth, death, etc. We control very little of this.
CAPITALISM - Money-and-profit system in America and elsewhere. We don't control this day-to-day at all. However, long-term, we can get rid of it. That's the real point.
OUR LIVESWe think we control our lives, much more than we actually do. We control our lives, but only within what the larger framework of capitalism allows. Ultimately, and in larger terms, capitalism tells us what we can and cannot do in our lives, and what our options will be. No doubt about it.
The Big House
Here's another way to understand capitalism, our lives under it, and the relationship between our personal choices and "free will," and our delimited existence under capitalism. Imagine a two story building, with five rooms on each floor, making a total of ten rooms. This building represents capitalism. The first floor represents the average material existence experienced by most people under capitalism; the second floor represents an existence characterized not merely by the minimum, but by access to "the finer things" in life. Each of us resides in this building; as long as capitalism lasts, we can't leave this building. The building is capitalism, and limits our lives. The more money a given individual has, the greater their access to more rooms in the house.
A destitute person, for example, would have access to just one room on the first floor. The balance of the rooms on the first floor, and the entire second floor, would be inaccessible to this person. This person would likely be aware, if dimly, of the existence of some of these other rooms, but would also be acutely aware of their inability to access them. The other rooms represent greater opportunity and experience in all spheres of life. In contrast, a person of unlimited wealth would have access to the entire first floor, every room, and the entire second floor, every room. In other words, the whole house. The average middle-class family or individual would likely have access to the entire first floor; second floor access would remain unavailable.
Now, do the residents of this house, poor, rich, or in-between, have "free will"? They believe that they do, and yes, they do possess a measure of freedom. But this freedom, what they understand as free will, is actually just the freedom to move about as they wish within their constrained and predetermined space within the house. The destitute person, for example, cannot leave his one room. But within that one room, he is "free" to walk around, walk to the front of the room, walk to the back of the room, perhaps look out the window if one exists, jump up and down, dance, or sing within the room, then ultimately lie down and sleep--all within that one room. This is his "freedom," his "free will," his "choice." The wealthy individual possesses essentially the same ability, except that their wealth buys them access to the entire house, ten rooms, not just one. But they possess the same "freedom" as the destitute person: the ability to make their own decisions regarding when and how they will exist and move about, within their predefined space. The person of wealth simply has more of that space; thus, their condition is likely better than the person of lesser means, but their status, that of a prisoner, is exactly the same. Both classes of person are under "house arrest," as it were; the affluent person simply has a larger house.
This is the sum and substance of the personal choice and "free will" available to us under capitalism.
Q. But what of the person who spies the front door and elects to walk through it to the outside? Can't the constraining framework of capitalism be escaped by simply walking through that door?
A. There is no front door to this house. We can't escape capitalism. Even were someone to attempt to escape capitalism by, say, rejecting the capitalist system of employment and simply remaining unemployed, they'd eventually starve, or otherwise lead an extremely constrained existence since they'd have no money. In other words, the rules and laws of capitalism would still apply.
Perhaps you think that you could situate yourself in a remote location someplace and "live off the land." Even here capitalism would have its hooks in you, however, since the land you intend to "live off of" is likely someone's property! You would be subject, at any time, to expulsion from this land, and even arrest.
Q. Suppose it's true that our lives are controlled by capitalism. What's wrong with capitalism?
A. What's wrong with capitalism? Exposition of the grave and manifold problems of capitalism, along with exposition of its replacement, is what this website is all about, and is explicit and implicit throughout this site.
Firstly, then, why would you want your life controlled by anyone or anything? As human beings, if we don't have freedom--true freedom--and if we can't make our own choices--true choices--what do we have?
. . .
Here is an introduction to the many and varied problems of capitalism:
Firstly: ...And this is critical to understand--it is the normal operation of capitalism that directly causes just about every problem we face today as individuals, and as a global society. Capitalism is the root cause of most of these problems. We refer to problems beginning with hunger, homelessness, physical illness, mental illness, stress, addiction, poverty, unemployment, lack of health care, unhappiness in every form, depressions and recessions, and even war; and most pointedly, we also include on this list the decided lack of Agape, or brotherly love, we see in modern-day society. If we get rid of capitalism, we get rid of the lions's share of all these problems.
Yes, this is a bold, if not audacious, assertion. It is the "dirty little secret" of modern-day economics. But we will fully support it here and throughout this website.
Secondly: One of the principal problems is that under the system of capitalism, citizens have no control over the economy (employment, wages, hours, bosses, job termination, job export, layoffs, working conditions, sick leave, vacation, taxes, prices, credit, cost-of-living, car payments, mortgage or rent payments, health insurance, tuition, food and clothing costs, IRAs, investments, etc., etc.). We have to deal with these "economic" issues every moment of every day. They determine, in large part, the quality of our lives. We're always thinking about them. It is probably fair to say that most people have these things on their mind most of the time--it is virtually impossible to escape them! No matter what else is going in our lives, we are constantly forced to think about economic, or money-related, issues. In fact, it is these issues which usually determine what we can and cannot do in our lives.
Yet, neither as workers, nor as citizens, do we have any control over these issues--which means, in effect, we have no control over our own lives. And when someone, or something, else controls your life, not you, that makes you--a slave.
Thirdly: Under the money-and-profit system of capitalism, we can also very easily become slaves to the products and services corporations continually push at us (on television, radio, billboards, the tops of taxicabs, and everywhere else). We can become slaves to the money required to buy these things. And slaves to the payments continually required to keep the nice house and car, and to perhaps even keep your spouse or significant other satisfied, as well. We can become slaves to the job, or the "boss," we need to acquire these things, and even just to survive. We can become slaves to the food, alcohol, drugs, sports, sitcoms, sex, violence, aggression, self-doubt, self-mutilation, anger, or anything else we turn to for relief and escape from the "law-of-the-jungle" world of money and "work" we are presented with every day. Especially as we begin to realize we can't easily or necessarily get all those wonderful products and services we see on television and at the mall. Or as we begin to realize just how difficult it is to get ahead--and stay ahead--in a profit-and-money based system like this.
What would your life be like without your credit, whether in the form of your credit card, your mortgage, or your car loan? Without credit, would you still have a house? A car? College? Would you even have groceries every week? Most of us are much poorer under capitalism than we think.
All things considered, capitalism engenders multiple forms of slavery, starting with our complete lack of control over the economy, itself. The reality is, capitalism is a slave system.
It is a predatory system that we must replace, for these, and other, important reasons we will discuss.
Q. But don't we already live in a "Cooperative Society"?
A. No! In the United States, and many other countries around the world, people live in what is commonly called a "capitalist democracy."
FIRST OF ALL: our present-day society is called "capitalist" because our economic system is capitalism. This is a system where:
The costs they have to keep low are for things like:
It's a constant struggle between owners and workers!
It's why you are always fighting your "boss" or your company for every little thing--they always want to give out less, while you and your family need them to give out more. It's an unavoidable contradiction, a basic flaw in the system--and it can't be changed without changing capitalism.
It is also why companies are constantly scouring the globe looking for cheaper labor. And when they find it--kiss your job goodbye. Enter layoffs, "downsizing," "rightsizing,"...companies invent many different labels for the same phenomenon. Enter stress, job insecurity, and an erosion of your physical and mental health, as you wonder whether you'll have a job tomorrow. When it comes to the continual and obsessive need to bring costs down, companies do whatever they feel have to--they don't care about you, and they don't recognize "patriotism." Only profit.
To be more exact: even if they wanted to, companies under capitalism simply can't care about you, and can't be patriotic--they have to match the cost-saving efficiencies of their competitors, to remain-price competitive with them, or they'll lose sales. If the loss of sales continues, it will ultimately result in business failure. And their competitors are forced to operate in similar ways, for similar reasons. The losers--us.
This is a chief reason that One Human Family maintains that the love ethic is impossible to fully and properly exercise under capitalism. And it partially illustrates how, in a profit system, at least equal in power to the capitalists is the market, itself. Very brutal and impersonal.
In addition to seeking cheaper labor overseas, companies aggressively try and invent cheaper labor, through the development of robots and other automated machines. Such development and use of these technologies is already fairly widespread, and is continuing unabated. You never really know if you'll ultimately lose your job to another human being, or a machine. Either way, the profit system is going to make you (and your family) suffer the consequences.
(And isn't it ironic that capitalism turns us all into machines.)
These realities point to one of the principle reasons humankind needs a better system: our present system is set up in a such a way that there is a constant tension between two groups of people in society, the tiny group of owners and the huge group of workers; they must continually fight. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the winner of this fight is the tiny group of business owners--not us.
To put it in the vulgar vernacular of the day: "Sucks to be us!"
In the business cycle, then, we have one good example that most of the problems we face today flow, directly or indirectly, from the normal way our money-and-profit based system operates. And there are many other examples.
A Cooperative Society is not subject to the business cycle. This is one of its many huge advantages.
Speak of the Devil
BOMA notes the 416-point plunge in the Dow Jones industrial average that occurred Tuesday, February 27, 2007, just the day before this new section was added to this page. This telling event consisted in a worldwide sell-off caused in the immediate by instability in the Chinese stock market.
This troubling incident illustrates one of the realities of the emerging global marketplace of this century: in years past the manifold national stock markets dotting the globe were fundamentally separate from each other. Thus, a glitch or instability in one, the Chinese stock market, for example, was barely noticed in other markets around the world.
Now, however, a characteristic of the new 21st century hypercapitalism is the global integration of all or many stock markets; they are more integrated than ever before. The practical effect of this change is not good--the economic tableau was bad enough before, in that our U.S. market, and indeed every stock market, was volatile and unstable. But now, as it is said "When the Chinese market sneezes, the U.S. market catches a cold." Meaning, of course, that our stock market, and indeed every market on the planet, is now disturbingly subject to the vagaries of every other market.
Economic stability and peace-of-mind -- 0.
Economic instability and further financial worry -- 1.
A Cooperative System, in wonderful contrast, would neither have nor require any stock markets, and would thus never be subject to these sorts of dangerous economic absurdities.
SECOND OF ALL: we said that in the United States, and many other countries around the world, people live in what is commonly called a "capitalist democracy," and we just explained what the "capitalist" part means. What about the democracy part?
We must first rightly laud American democracy, and the American democratic experiment; it is great in-itself, and in its historical import.
Yet we must also acknowledge its flaws, especially in light of more advanced alternatives, such as that of the more complete democracy of a Cooperative System.
The following deficiencies in American democracy can be identified:
Let Us Put It Another Way
America has many strengths--and several weaknesses; especially: its citizens have no control over the economy.
This means we have no control over:
The items in the above list touch on how we live our lives. The list contains all the issues and concerns we think about, and have to deal with, every moment of every day. Yet, we have no control over any of those things--which means, in effect, we have no control over our own lives.
We are slaves to the system--to bosses, to their bosses, to profit, to money, to the company, and to the market, itself. Everything is in control of us--but us. Everything determines what we do--but us. Everything determines how we live--but us. We walk around all day continually forced to juggle a variety of thoughts and problems about money and work, in our heads.
The inescapable conclusion: we are slaves. Young, middle-aged, and old, it never changes, and so neither does our status as slaves. In fact, it actually gets worse as we get older, because as we age we are less able to tolerate the instability, insecurity, and constant change the system continually throws at us. In years past, just after World War II, there was a brief period (at least in the United States), when a company was loyal to its employees. We were slaves even then, but at least there was a modicum of economic security, and our workload was sane--we weren't required to work night and day, at work and at home, as we are now. In other words, we were prisoners even then, but at least our jail cell had golden bars. But those days are over, and no one expects them to come back.
Capitalism has had its shot. It's had its chance. It's been around since about the 1400s, or the 15th century, and it's had a "good run," as they say. When it started, it represented an improvement over what came before it, and it accomplished much good for its time. But as discussed above, and below--without question, capitalism is outdated and outmoded now. Things are very different today from 600 years ago! The economy is very different. People are very different. And their expectations, and their sense of their own rights as human beings, are very different. In sum: the world is very different than it was when capitalism began, 600 years ago--and so, logically, our economic system must be different, too. It is not unreasonable to assert that it needs an update!
Thomas Jefferson said that each society should conduct a revolution, to update itself, every 20 years!
The Good News
A money-and-profit-basis is not the only way to organize our world; there are alternate ways, such as the building of what we call The Cooperative Society. We can organize our society differently, into a Cooperative system, where we, the majority, democratically control the economy, from the ground up, and operate it to serve our interests-not corporate interests! In a Cooperative system, we would produce goods and services to provide for our needs and wants, not for profit. Once profit considerations end, all the social defects listed above would be exactly reversed, because they are all based on corporate need to keep costs down, so profits can stay up! Cooperative production for need, however, does away with profit, so fear and slavery ends, and love, community, and well-being can begin!
In a Cooperative system, all goods and services would be free, based on need (and wants); neither markets, nor money, would be required, anymore. In fact, neither "corporations," nor "selling" would even exist, anymore.
Profit and money are not required in a Cooperative Society. Each of us would be producers and contributors, giving what we could based on our talents, and taking from the available supply of goods and services, based on our needs and wants. Underpinning this new kind of society would be the formal adoption, teaching, and practice of the love ethic in the sphere of interpersonal and social relationships.
Our "Cooperative Program" is democratic and peaceful. It is based on Article V of the United States constitution, which provides for a legal change of government. It is as new approach, never tried before, anywhere in the world.
If we begin to educate ourselves, and work together peacefully and democratically, much--dare we think most--human suffering can be eliminated. We have options, we can create a more beautiful world, we do not have to suffer--this is our Message Of Hope!
More on all this throughout this website...keep reading!
. . . . .
Over 200 years ago, a small group of men in America, building on the wisdom of the ages, sought and achieved substantial progress toward dramatically restructuring the world, in accord with their perception of an emerging, superior (for its time) economic methodology called capitalism, and new system of governance called democracy. Many, from many countries, have similarly contributed to the advancement of humankind.
Now, the passage of time and the evolution of thought have again created a superior economic methodology--the paradigm of the free, cooperative economy, and also created, or perhaps should now simply recognize, a superior system of social values--those based on the love ethic. Can the human race again engineer, implement, and execute, a world that is dramatically better than has ever existed?
One Human Family believes: Yes!
Q. Wow. Tell me more.
A. There's much that is right with our society. In many respects, it is the most advanced society in human history. But, there is also a solid set of grave problems that never seem to go away. In fact, these problems cannot go away as long as our society is based on money, marketing, selling, and profit, not love, community, and people--the real needs of humankind.
Believe it or not, in the year 2004 we still suffer materially, deprived in many cases of such basics as food, clothing, shelter, or health care. And we suffer in non-material ways also: mental illness; various kinds of addictions including narcotics, food, sex, television, pornography, or anything else people latch onto to escape their despair, stress, and frustration; marital strife; alienation from people, society, or oneself; emotional difficulties or maladjustment; spiritual deprivation; loneliness, and general despair or unhappiness.
In fact, in a society like ours, based on money and profit, your general happiness, indeed, the very way you experience the world, is dependent on your income. Social psychologist and philosopher Erich Fromm makes the point that a poor man, or even a middle-class man, experiences the world very differently from the way a rich man does. Considering that each of us has but one Earthly life to live, shouldn't we be able to experience it fully, in all its richness?
Most of the suffering people experience in their lives is absolutely unnecessary, given the resources readily and easily available to us at this point in history, including labor both skilled and unskilled, knowledge, technology, natural resources, and plant and equipment. A Cooperative Society is simply a "better mousetrap"; because of the way it works, most of the problems listed above simply would not exist. Life would be much, much different--much, much better.
Ultimately, when the organizing principle of a society is money, instead of human needs and wants, people become slaves. We become slaves to money, to the social and personal mechanisms, habits, and behaviors required to produce money, and eventually to our own need, or sometimes craving, for money and the things it buys--which corporations constantly try their hardest in every possible way to create and amplify.
In short, though chattel slavery ended in 1865, so one human being could no longer "own" another, unfortunately we are still slaves. That is reality. We are slaves in our capacity as workers, and as consumers. I am a slave, and you are a slave.
Especially telling are the putative statistics clearly indicating that, though there is a relatively high degree of material abundance in the United States, and average IQ scores in every industrialized country on the planet, including the United States, have been increasing steadily for decades, the happiness level of Americans is slowly but steadily decreasing.
Clearly, there is a flaw in the plan.
Social psychologist Erich Fromm and others who have studied the human condition of the latter-day are not surprised by this finding. They know that, in fact, the health of the human psyche and spirit depends not on the various artificial pleasures, incentives, and inducements of a money-based culture and economy, but instead on such fundamental human elements as peace of mind, freedom from stress, self-actualizing work, and loving relations with those around us. But the simple fact is that, when asked to create and sustain these things, capitalism is bumbling and inept, at best, and fatally inadequate, at worst. It just wasn't designed for the job.
Q. How am I a slave as a worker?
A. To begin understanding this, start looking closely, every day, at your relationship with your "boss," and your company. Notice how your behavior and personality change on the job, as you try to "please" your "boss," or otherwise attempt to remain "employed." And notice how workloads are increasing, as companies throughout our economy terminate workers, then expect the remaining workers--us, if we're "lucky"--to carry the entire load.
And why do you call another human being boss, anyway?
Have you realized yet who is on which end of the power relationship? Who the master is, and who the slave is?
The fact that our modern economic system essentially constitutes a system of slavery is a principal theme articulated by One Human Family.
Q. How can I be a slave as a worker? My company gave me a job. They give me money. They give me health benefits. When my work life is over, they'll give me a pension. Does a slave receive these things from their master?
A. Let's be clear--your company is not giving you anything. They are trading you money, benefits, etc., in return for your labor. How much labor? As much as they can squeeze out of you.
The fact is, even the slave must receive a minimum of food, clothing, heat, shelter, and medicine from the master, to keep the slave in reasonable health, so they can keep working for the master. Every effective master knows this. Our corporate masters, therefore, generally give us the minimum payment, in the form of money, benefits, etc., to keep us minimally, at worst, and generally, at best, healthy and working. Are there exceptions? Sure. But they are increasingly few-and-far-between, and even companies which aspire to fairness or compassion can't afford to be too generous, or their costs will rise too much and they'll find themselves at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace, or perhaps even out of business. This, by the way, is one of the many ways a system based on money, profit, advertising, and marketing prevents the full flowering of the love ethic.
President John Adams said: "When the workers are paid in return for their labor only as much money as will buy the necessaries of life, their condition is identical with that of the slave."
And don't forget, even those of us whose prison has "golden bars," in that they earn a higher paycheck--are still in prison. In such a circumstance, the conditions of your imprisonment may improve, but your status as a prisoner remains the same.
Now let's review the specific forms of remuneration cited in your question.
Jobs. Because employment is so insecure under capitalism, it may seem natural and proper to thank a company for "giving" you a job. However, because human beings will die, literally, without the money employment provides, the moral universe asserts that a job is actually not something which can be given to you--having a job is your right as a human being. Having productive work to do so you and your family can survive is your right. Your company has nothing to do with it. It is only because jobs are generally so hard to come by in a money-and-profit system, that we are grateful when we get one, feel gratitude toward the company who hired and employs us, and want to thank them. However, this way of looking at our own employment is short-sighted, doesn't take in all the facts, and ignores what a sick little game employment really is, under capitalism.
Consider this allegory:
Suppose you were lost in the wilderness, hungry, naked, and homeless, with no prospect of survival. Suppose further that a slaveowner found you, and proposed a deal: "I will provide you with the means to obtain such things as food, clothing, and shelter," he said--"but in exchange you must become my slave." "Also," he added, "I make no guarantee as to the quality or sufficiency of the food, clothing, and shelter you will receive as my slave. They might be adequate and make you happy, or they might be inadequate and keep you miserable." "Moreover," he continued, "throughout your life there will be times when I will throw you off my plantation and you will no longer belong to me, and you will be in grave danger of losing whatever you have built-up or stored; during those times you will again find yourself lost in the wilderness. You will have to endure inconvenience and suffering to try and get back on my plantation, or that of another slaveowner." "In fact," he went on, "Unless you want to go back to the wilderness, you can never escape us, and our system of slavery." "Last," he finished, "Know that as my slave, throughout your life you will find and be forced to endure many other complexities, inconveniences, injustices, and hardships. Life as a slave is difficult and complicated; your pain and stress will never cease. This is my price for keeping you out of the wilderness."
"Well, then," he might conclude confidently, "Do you accept the deal?"
If you were desperate enough, you would probably take his "deal." You'd have no choice. But the point is: would you thank the slaveowner? Would you feel "grateful" to him?
No, you would not. Because even though the slaveowner was going to provide you with a means of survival, their price for doing so was completely unacceptable. And furthermore, the kind of "survival" they are offering is highly questionable.
Similarly, today. Neither "gratitude" nor "thanks" are in order for the modern-day capitalist. In hiring you, the "deal" they are offering is one and the same as that offered by the slaveowner--perhaps with a prettier package and a friendly smile.
Benefits. Not every full-time job has benefits. Part-time jobs almost never do. Once employed, you are forced to wait for your benefits to start, whether you need them immediately or not. And, of course, nowhere is the fact that money rules the roost more evident today than in the area of company-supplied health benefits, which are picked over with a fine-toothed calculator whenever you try and use them--anyone with an HMO knows this.
Had enough reality? Sorry, but there's more. Perhaps the final overt insult is that once you lose your job--you lose your benefits! Perhaps the most important underlying reality, however, is that capitalism, itself, in fact, is largely responsible for our physical and psychological illnesses in the first place, through the many economic stresses it constantly places on us, and by continually goading us to buy and consume foods, beverages, and lifestyles which are clearly bad for us. Then, once sick, we depend, ironically, on the kindness of capitalist corporations to provide our health benefits!
Pensions. The ugly reality of our money-and-profit system is that companies are abandoning pensions at a rapid and continuing pace. In 2000, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley said:
"In 1987 there were 111,400 defined benefit pension plans in the United States. By 1997...the total number of insured single-employer defined benefit plans had declined to under 44,000 plans -- a nearly 60 percent decline."
And on Jan. 11, 2004 Christine Dugas reported in USA Today that:
"The percentage of employers offering traditional pensions dropped to 45% in 2003 — from 83% in 1990 — as they switched to other pension types and 401(k) plans."
"...other pension types and 401(k) plans...." refers to plans which depend more heavily on employee contributions, and are increasingly unlikely to guarantee payment at the end of your work life.
Furthermore, those companies who have not abandoned their pension plans--yet--are increasingly unable, unwilling, or both, to actually pay. In fact, the pension system in America is in a recognized crisis--like so much else in our increasingly dystopic money-and-exploitation-based society.
So, all things considered, are we slaves as workers? You'd better believe it. Luckily, however, there's a better way, and it's well within our grasp. We possess the keys to unlock our own chains...keep reading!
Q. How am I a slave as a consumer?
A. Together, as a group, we workers are slaves in our capacity as consumers because we'll never be paid enough to buy back the goods and services that we ourselves have produced! If you work in an automobile plant, new cars pass under your fingertips every day. But actually acquiring a new car for yourself--that's an entirely different matter.
Here is an actual "Help Wanted" classified ad of some years ago, from a New Jersey newspaper:
FULL TIME - Immediate start. Photo copy medical records in local
Yes, you will be permitted to work in a hospital--but obtaining the medical services available in that very building? Sorry--that we won't permit. Such is the unbelievable, twisted moral logic of our present money-and-profit based system.
Indeed, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. asked: "Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that is two-thirds water?"
And you're a slave as a consumer because when you buy something, the quantity, quality, and selection available to you is what the corporation, and the larger marketplace, determines it will be. In large measure, they determine how your money will be spent--not you. In contrast to the famous dictum "You get what you pay for," we maintain that a more truthful and accurate version is "You pay for what you get."
And after your purchase of a good or service, if you find it does not fill your need and would thus like to return it, you are generally at the mercy of the seller, who may or may not allow the return. Likewise, the seller itself is, at least in part, at the mercy of the competitive marketplace, so even if it wishes to act on a generous impulse and allow your return, the cost of processing such a return, and other possible penalties, may be problematic for them and they will deny you. This happens all the time. Thus, you are forced to buy a certain product, in a certain quantity, at a certain price, and if you ultimately find you don't want it, you're often forced to keep it, which is to say you're forced to allow the seller to keep your money in their pocket. An individual who is forced to act in accordance with the dictates of others can rightly be understood as a slave.
And you're a slave as a consumer because corporations deliberately manufacture products to wear out--forcing you to continually re-buy the same items! Under the twisted economic logic of capitalism, corporations really have to do it this way. If they didn't, if they built their products to last twenty or thirty years, there would be very few repeat sales, and they would have to go out of business. This is simply the normal operation of capitalism. In other words, this is just how capitalism works.
Who pays for this twisted way of doing things? We do, in that we are forced to continually buy the same items over and over again. They force us to keep working--and keep buying. Keep working--and keep buying. There's just no end.
You're also a slave as a consumer because the corporation which sells you a product or service does so to enrich itself--not to satisfy your need or want. Sometimes your need or want is satisfied by the purchase of a product or service--and sometimes it's not. This reality is captured in some measure in the adage' "You pays yer' money, and you takes yer' chances," and "Let the buyer beware."
This writer has had many harrowing experiences with companies.
Then, of course, there is the gargantuan problem of corporate honesty, or, more to the point--dishonesty.
Q. Yeah. Corporate crime has been all over the news in recent months, starting with the titanic fraud and misdeeds of Enron.
A. While evident today in the continuing scandals of American companies like Enron, Worldcom, Ford, Firestone, Merrill Lynch, the Italian corporation Parmalat, Martha Stewart, and now Merck, with its killer drug Vioxx, the unfortunate but unmistakable fact is duplicity is an integral part of the normal operation of our money-and-profit based system, capitalism. Truth fell victim a long, long time ago. Which salesman or television commercial is less deceitful--Ford or Chevy? Maytag or Whirlpool? Bumble Bee or StarKist? How can we really know? Certainly, there is Consumer Reports magazine, which is helpful--to a point. But the larger, more important question is: why do we have to continually fight to squeeze the truth from corporate America?
Furthermore, it isn't just corporations that routinely practice deceit. Businesses of all sizes, including small, local business, also do it. In fact, in the experience of this writer, proprietorships and other very small companies, whether general contractors, roofers, auto-detailers, auto repair shops, car dealerships, bakeries, real estate brokers, appliance repair companies, pizza delivery companies, even small software companies, often effectively comprise small private tyrannies to which local customers must submit. These small companies are often just as deceitful in their relentless push for business as their larger counterparts, their big brothers in the corporate world. Television programs like DateLine or 20/20, using hidden cameras and microphones to perform consumer investigation, regularly and routinely uncover blatantly dishonest business owners and practices. When caught, perpetrators either run guiltily from the camera, refusing to speak with the journalists, or feign ignorance regarding "how it happened," or deny that the incident occurred, or place the blame elsewhere, perhaps on an employee. How many times have we watched events unfold in this manner, as we watch a televised undercover expose'?
We must remove our rose-colored glasses, and realize that when we read a print advertisement, view a television commercial, hear a radio commercial, or listen to the words of an in-store salesperson, chances are good, if not excellent, that we're being deceived, by one or more lies of commission or omission. If you are made to believe a product has a capability, characteristic, or feature it does not have, or if you are made to believe you need a certain product when you don't, or if a salesperson, in trying to sell you, asserts: "I own this product, myself, and it's great!" when they do not actually own the product, you've been deceived by a lie of commission (this writer's own sister, hired to sell waterbeds, was instructed during training to falsely claim ownership and enthusiastic use of a waterbed product).
Alternatively, if you are not informed of the weaknesses or limitations of a product, or not informed when a competing product has the exact feature you're looking for, you've been deceived by a lie of omission. Companies routinely combine both kinds of deception, to form a selling tour-de-force which they hope will handily result in greater and greater sales made or "closed." People simply do not realize how often they are lied to in the marketplace. If you assume you are lied to, in one way or another, to one degree or another, just about all the time, you'd be pretty much on the mark.
Think about your own job--can you honestly say that everything you and your company tell other human beings (i.e. your customers, suppliers, etc.) is 100% true? All the time?
If your product or service does not perfectly fit the bill regarding the needs of a given customer, does your official corporate policy instruct you to helpfully point them in the direction of a competing product that does? Or do you try to sell the customer your product anyway? If your company maintains an aggressive sales posture, as most do, and instructs you to make the sale at just about any cost, but you decide to act instead with love and respect for the customer, and apprise them of a suitable competing product or service, how long do you think you'll stay employed with your company?
Without question, our obsessive system of money-and-profit, and sales-at-any-cost, has trumped every desirable human value, including and especially love and, in the context of this discussion--truth. That's bad for society, bad for people, and bad for our future--very bad.
In contrast, the health of a cooperative economy does not depend on selling things. In fact, in a Cooperative Society there is no such thing as "selling"...as this web page describes, the concept is simply no longer relevant, since there is completely free access to goods and services. Therefore, the need to sell would no longer exist as a reason for people to lie to each other. The entire impetus for the frenzied need to sell would simply disappear.
I have begun chronicling some of the experiences I've had with various companies over the years, illustrating clearly and cogently that money (and sometimes ego)--not my happiness--was their overriding concern. All businesses must, and do, put money ahead of your welfare, sooner, later, or all the time. They must, or face business decline, and even failure--that is the simple reality of the hyper-competitive marketplace of today.
Q. I've never thought of our social problems comprehensively like that, before. I've never really put 2 and 2 together, to realize how so many of our problems seem to spring from the normal way capitalism works. OK, let's assume for a minute that our money-and-profit system, capitalism itself, is the problem. What do we do?
A. Here is an overview of the solution. In-depth information is presented on the two pages following this one, and then throughout this web site.
The solution? We begin to build a Cooperative Society. This is a society based on two basic principles:
BOMA maintains that the love ethic is powerful, elegant, and utilitarian enough to form the basis of both interpersonal and social relations, and of larger structures such as political and economic systems. It can form the basic social and economic principle governing the operation of society. In fact, a society that concretely embodied these principles, and this approach, would be called a Cooperative Society. The exploration and discussion of the idea of this kind of society, for those willing to listen, is what BOMA is all about!
Q. You've mentioned the "love ethic" any number of times now. What is it, exactly? And why does it play such a pivotal role in the Cooperative Program?
A. The notion of the love ethic, also known as "brotherly love" or in Greek, agape (ah GOH pay), is critical to the revolution and thus essential to the BOMA program. Thus, the complete BOMA introduction to this subject is contained in a stand-alone essay here.
After reading that page, don't forget to jump back here to pick up where you left off in reading this FAQ!
(Clicking the BACK button on your browser once or twice should get you back here.)
Q. I'm beginning to understand the notion of a Cooperative Society. Help me further understand.
A. Ok. This time, let's approach it this way. Here's what a Cooperative Society is not:
None of the above constitutes a Cooperative Society!
A Cooperative Society is one in which there is collective ownership, by all of us, of the factories, offices, farms, mills, mines, railroads, airlines, power plants, land, and everything else that makes up what we call "the economy." Work, production, and all economic activity in a Cooperative system occurs to satisfy human needs and wants, not for sale and profit, as under capitalism; consequently, neither money nor markets are required, and access to goods and services is free. The economy is managed democratically, by industry, from the bottom up, not the top down, as under the present money-and-profit system of capitalism. Managers are elected by workers, not hired and installed by owners and bosses!
All education and training is free, so people can readily learn about, and experience, different job or career avenues; this way, they can determine for themselves which work really fulfills and "self-actualizes" them. Work in a Cooperative Society will thus be enjoyable, and both psychologically and emotionally healthy and satisfying. Unlike capitalism, Cooperative workers will actually want to go to work each day!
In a society where work is healthy, enjoyable, fulfilling, and no longer alienating, and where the means of life (i.e. goods and services) are free, and where there is true peace-of-mind, because money, and worries about money, have disappeared, most forms of pathological human behavior, since they are ultimately rooted in, or excacerbated by, economic stress and unhappiness, will disappear. Overeating, narcotic addition, compulsive sexual behaviors, compulsive gambling, mental illness, inappropriate aggression and violence, masochism, sadism, and just about every other human behavioral hiccup will fade away, since their sources no longer exist.
For those who value Agape, the love ethic, a cooperative society is essential because it would allow the full blossoming and expression of love, which a money-and-profit system simply cannot do. It was not designed for this manner of human existence, and does not easily and naturally tolerate it.
A Cooperative Society represents a historic, new way of doing things, which will eliminate a host of problems, intractable under capitalism, and create a host of dramatic benefits, unavailable under capitalism. All things considered, many people believe that a cooperative system will provide our best and only chance to finally reach that timeless and historic dream of the "brotherhood of man"!
Q. Does BOMA have a program of "immediate demands," in other words, a set of social and economic reforms and improvements it officially calls for, to benefit people now, while we wait for adoption of a Cooperative system?
A. BOMA is an educational organization with one, and only mandate: educate about a Cooperative society, with the goal of persuading a majority of citizens to adopt this new form of social organization. We have no official program of immediate demands, although we certainly support and encourage people and organizations in their efforts to improve quality of life and solve problems in the here-and-now.
Moreover, we encourage BOMA members and sympathizers to verse themselves in their reform issue of interest, and immerse themselves in the reform movement and organizations devoted to attempting to solve that particular problem. One member might entertain an interest in the issue of homelessness, for example, while another may be interested in the issue of lack of health insurance in America. With this interest and expertise, the member or sympathizer can educate the reformers about the key role capitalism plays in causing or exacerbating that particular problem.
Q. Continuing, why doesn't BOMA adopt official positions of support, as similar groups do, in favor of, for example, women's reproductive rights, gay rights, illegal immigrants rights, a raise in the minimum wage, immediate withdrawal from Iraq, anti-recruitment, or many other reform causes?
A. Because, first of all, advocacy of reform positions is not the mandate BOMA has assigned itself. As stated above, our sole mandate is the promotion of the Brotherhood of Man. Additionally, however, it would be presumptuous and potentially counterproductive to advocate this or that reform position: for every person who supports abortion, there is one who does not; for every person who supports amnesty for illegal immigrants, there is one who does not; for every person who supports an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, there is one who does not, and so on. Thus, it would likely be unwise to adopt an "official" position on a given issue or set of issues, as it could alienate, a priori, persons potentially interested in the basic idea of a Cooperative society. Persons who would otherwise have been interested in joining or affiliating with BOMA may be put off.
One possible exception would be abortion, as I don't see how we can conceptualize all human beings as one human family, yet omit humans growing in, and slowly emerging from, the womb. Considering, as well, that such humans comprise our most dependent and vulnerable population.
Our general posture on reform issues is rooted in our belief that 1.) the idea of a Cooperative society, where the economy is publicly owned and controlled in what would surely be a vast improvement over capitalism, is not fundamentally a "left-wing" idea, but an idea of such beauty, such sheer economic and moral logic, that individuals of any political stripe can see and feel its appeal. And 2.) these sorts of social and reform issues are, in many cases, more rightly to be decided upon by the citizens of the future Cooperative society. In this sense, BOMA can probably be seen as the most socially "conservative" of the groups working for a Cooperative society.
The job of BOMA is to get us there; in other words, to help ensure that there is a future Cooperative society.
Having said this, it also remains true that, insofar as BOMA might be inclined to support this or that reform position, the organization is inclined more toward 1.) economic, not social, issues, and 2.) positions that represent a social consensus in the here-and-now, and would be anticipated to represent such a consensus in a Cooperative society. For example, we would not support or pass a judgment on abortion rights one way or the other, for the reasons introduced above. But we would generally support an increase in the minimum wage, since this latter issue engenders far less social division than abortion; in other words, people of good conscience of all, or many, political stripes probably tend to support a rise in the minimum wage, whereas no such cohesion of agreement exists regarding abortion. Thus, our stand on minimum wage is less likely to alienate persons potentially interested in the basic notion of a Cooperative Society. It ultimately represents an issue less subject to good-faith disagreement. This is relevant because, again, the more a given issue is subject to good-faith disagreement, the more we must construe its consideration and social adjudication as falling within the purview of the democratic process in a Cooperative Society--not presented a priori as part of the official program of a group working toward a Cooperative Society.
Ultimately, there is a role that BOMA and its members can and must play regarding these issues: 1.) immersion in the respective reform movements advocating for these issues, as mentioned above, and 2.) formulating and proffering a Cooperative analysis of each issue, explaining the role of the money-and-profit system in causing or exacerbating the particular issue, to help reformers understand that to fully and permanently solve whatever reform issue they're working on, a change from capitalism to "Cooperationism," a Cooperative Society, is required.
Q. Building a Cooperative system seems like a task that will take years--it's probably not something I'll ever see in my lifetime. Why should I even worry about it?
A. The transition to a Cooperative Society may not occur in your lifetime. But your children, their children, and their children, will have to live in this world for many, many years to come. The kind of society we have 50, 100, or 200 years from now won't affect you, but most certainly will greatly affect your offspring.
A 1-year-old child today will probably live until approximately the year 2075. If that child has a child when they are 25 years old, that child will live until approximately 2105. If that child has a child similarly, that child will live until about 2130.
Your actions, now, will determine the kind of world they will live in, then.
People who advocate a Cooperative Society are not principally interested in short-term gratification. They understand that the change they seek is probably not right around the corner.
Ultimately, we cannot tell with certainty when a Cooperative Society might come; it might be sooner, it might be later. We do know that when society is in collapse, people suddenly become very open to new ideas, notions they would not have considered previously. You'd be surprised at how quickly people will consider new ideas when unemployment hits 30, 40, or even 50%. Does this sound implausible? Recall that, as discussed above, one of the greatest weaknesses of the capitalist economy is that it is unstable. For example, most people are not aware that the United States has suffered NINE depressions in its history--so far.
Ultimately, whether we see a Cooperative Society realized in our lifetimes or not, it remains a beautiful--and necessary--goal, which enriches us, teaches us, and makes us better people for the effort we put in. And working to keep the idea alive increases the chance that it will occur one day, making for a far better future for our progeny.
Job Export and the Love Ethic
The love ethic can be a powerful analytical tool. In fact, our inclusion of the love ethic in the Cooperative program can yield unique and productive analytical postures. For example, a traditional analysis of globalization decries its labor dislocations, as jobs are shipped from the United States to other nations, as capitalists continually seek cheaper labor. This is called job export. The BOMA analysis of such trends, however, recognizes that, while disadvantageous to American workers, they contain certain fortuitous or favorable elements: living standards of workers in other nations will probably improve, and, a "truer" picture of the actual economic state of the entire global working class can be revealed.
Of course, we note that companies move operations to specific geographical areas for hard economic reasons--to make or maximize profit, not to provide an economic helping-hand to poor workers, by redistributing wealth from richer to poorer countries. That is simply a by-product of larger corporate decisions.
The world-view and moral sensibility of One Human Family and its program, does not categorically condemn job export from richer to poorer nations. This worldview sees all people as brothers and sisters in one human family. Accordingly, it inteprets job export as conditionally favorable if such wealth redistribution benefits workers who desperately need greater, or an, income. In our practice of the love ethic, we are pleased to see our brothers and sisters in China, India, and elsewhere, finally able, in some cases, to extricate themselves from poverty, and begin to enjoy a minimally decent standard of living, even if our own economic status must suffer to facilitate this. Recall that the definition of the love ethic is a concern for the welfare of others in approximate proportion to our concern for ourselves.
As Cooperationists, we recognize that this dilemma, whereby an advance in economic status for one group must come at the expense of another, is one of the pernicious contradictions of capitalism, and as such, represents one of many reasons we must work seriously to transition to a Cooperative System. Under such a system, all people of every geographical area will contribute to the requirements of society, and take freely from the abundance of society, that has been cooperatively created and contributed. Neither money nor profit is required under such a system, so there is no financial incentive to move jobs to a different geographical area. Were jobs ever moved for legitimate non-financial reasons, it would not adversely impact the economic well-being of anyone, since money is not required for survival in the first place, in a Cooperative Society.
~ Advocating Economic & Personal Change ~
One Human Family